Trainee‑led research using an integrated knowledge translation approach: a scoping review


There are increasing expectations for researchers and knowledge users in the health system to use a research partnership approach, such as integrated knowledge translation (IKT), to increase the relevance and use of research findings in health practice, programmes and policies. However, little is known about how health research trainees engage in research partnership approaches. The purpose of this scoping review was to map and characterize the evidence related to using an IKT or other research partnership approach from the perspective of health research trainees in thesis and/or postdoctoral work.


We conducted this scoping review following the Joanna Briggs Institute methodology and Arksey and O’Malley’s framework. We searched the following databases in June 2020: MEDLINE, Embase, CINAHL and PsycINFO. We also searched sources of unpublished studies and grey literature. Papers were included if they reported on trainee-led (i.e., graduate student, postdoctoral fellow) health research that used a research partnership approach. Two reviewers independently screened titles and abstracts and full-text reports and extracted data from the included papers. We mapped the extracted data onto several frameworks to address the research objectives, including the knowledge-to-action cycle, Workgroup for Intervention Development and Evaluation Research (WIDER) reporting checklist, and the Capability-Opportunity-Motivation-Behaviour (COM-B) Model. We produced descriptive numerical summaries of the quantitative data (i.e., frequency counts) and provided a narrative summary to describe how the findings addressed the review objectives. We reported our findings in accordance with the Preferred Reporting Items for Systematic Reviews and Meta-Analyses Extension for Scoping Reviews.


We included 74 records that described trainees’ experiences using a research partnership approach to health research. Most papers originated from Canada (n=36) and the United States (n=23). The majority of papers involved collaboration with knowledge users in the research question development, recruitment and data collection stages of the research process. Meetings were the most common mode of engagement with knowledge users (n = 27). Intersecting barriers to IKT at the individual, interpersonal and organizational levels were reported, including lack of skills in partnership research, competing priorities and trainees’ “outsider” status. Key facilitators to IKT include the use of clear and common language to facilitate knowledge user engagement, trainees’ flexibility and problem-solving skills, and having a pre-existing relationship with knowledge users to support relationship building. We also identified studies that evaluated their IKT approach and reported impacts on partnership formation, such as valuing different perspectives, and enhanced relevance of research.


Our review provides insights for trainees, supervisors, and other IKT researchers interested in research partnership approaches and offers guidance on how to apply an IKT approach to their research. The review findings can serve as a basis for future reviews and primary research focused on IKT principles, strategies and evaluation. The findings can also inform IKT training efforts such as guideline development and academic programme development.

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